AuthorStephenWhite.com
Stephen White's Facebook page

Hate Had A Key Card by Stephen White

     Any Yale student who has been enrolled for a while knows what steps to take to stay safe around campus. She'll tell you where in New Haven it is reasonable to walk at night accompanied by a friend or two, and where she might be better off taking the shuttle. After a party on Friday night, she'll know at what time danger begins to lurk in this neighborhood or on the perimeter of that one.
     Yale's campus security issues are not unique. Every school in the country, certainly every urban college, has safety concerns that are similar to Yale's. And students at every college learn a similar set of cautions.
     Yale parents—I was one for the past four years—are aware that our children face occasional perils at Yale, and in New Haven. When the last words of the phone conversations with our kids, before "I love you," are an admonishment to our sons to "be safe" or to our daughters to "walk with a friend" we are focusing our parental apprehension on readily identifiable, and we hope preventable, threats to life and limb.
     We're also comforted by the reality that, on most days, the riskiest thing our kids will do is jaywalk across Elm Street. Nonetheless, we sleep better knowing they are taking reasonable precautions.
     But buried deep in each parental heart is a dark threat, one that goes unspoken except in the immediate aftermath of tragedies like Columbine or Virginia Tech.
     The dark threat is the one that caused so many parental hearts to clench when we learned about the cruel death of Annie Le inside a locked, secure laboratory building at Yale.
     Annie Le's death got everyone's attention. Why?
     Annie Le had seemingly done everything right.
     Just like our kids.
     She was a bright young woman, accomplished and full of ambition. She had a future as big as her electric smile.
     She was just like our kids.
     There is no reason to suspect that Annie Le did anything to become a target of her killer. She knew how to stay safe in New Haven. She'd even written an article about it.
     So how could this happen, parents everywhere want to know, to someone like Annie Le?
     She was, after all, just like our kids.
     What is so agonizing about Annie Le's death to the parents of college students, to parents like me, is that her murder underscores the reality that there are dangers on campus our daughters can't avoid, that our sons can't circumvent. On America's college campuses—whether that campus is at a community college, or at an Ivy—students are often most vulnerable in the very places that they feel most secure.
     Campus security—Yale's is plentiful and competent—is not designed to prevent exceedingly rare, unpredictable horrors from striking our children behind the key-carded doors of classroom buildings and laboratories, inside monitored libraries, or on the other side of locked residential entryways.
     Those are the most secure areas on campus. Right?
     They probably are. But in the environment of academic and personal freedom that we yearn for our children to experience during their college years, there is no security system that can insulate students from the actions of an occasional solitary malevolent soul who shares the same access to the halls of academia that our kids enjoy.
     That is the kind of hate, it appears, that killed Annie Le.
     And it seems likely that the hate that found her had a key card.
     I don't pretend to know the particulars of the crime. My suppositions are informed by the same facts as yours, by my familiarity with Yale systems and procedures, and by the fact that I've spent almost twenty years as a writer thinking about crime.
     I do know, as a parent, that Annie Le was just like our children. And that is why I, and so many parents like me, can't shake the horror of what happened to her.
     Annie Le's family, her fiancÚ, and her friends will have to live on despite the loss of her vibrant life. Her funeral will not end their grief, nor will it be able to bury the fact that her tragic, senseless death will probably prove to have been neither predictable nor preventable.
     Parents will continue to send their children off to college. We'll proudly send them across town, across the state, across the country. And, maybe, on an occasional night—because we can't shake what happened to the lovely, bright, ambitious young woman at Yale who was just like our children—we'll be unable to find sleep.
     That's the night that we'll lie awake knowing in our darker hearts that, somewhere out there, on some campus, some day, like lightning striking from a cloud, hate will again have a key card.
     And there is nothing at all we can do about it.

 

Compound Fractures by Stephen White

In Stores Now

Line of Fire by Stephen White

In Stores Now